BAE Systems – Shipping up to Glasgow

Posted on 3 Jul 2015 by Callum Bentley

The production of the BAE Systems’ second Offshore Patrol Vessel has begun and Federico Ercoli flew to Glasgow to see it.

It was 16 degrees and sunny. BBC Weather could not have been more reassuring than that, although, as the old saying goes, “in Scotland, one can see all four seasons in a single day”, and in the end, it was exactly like that.

Luckily, the purpose of the trip was not sunbathing, the invite came from a giant. Scottish, British, European and international giant: BAE Systems, welcomed me to witness the formal commencement of the construction of the HMS Medway, after signing a £348m contract with the Ministry of Defence last August where the firm pledged to deliver three new Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) in four years’ time.

On a sunny Monday in June, Secretary of Defence, Michael Fallon, formally started the construction of the HMS MEDWAY, second of the three River Class Batch 2 vessels commissioned by the UK Government.

Surrounded by local authorities, Royal Navy representatives and BAE employees at the historical shipbuilding site, Govan, the Secretary operated an enormous plasma steel-cutting machine and kick-started the production. “This programme sustains jobs here directly and through the supply chain,” Fallon said.

Secretary of Defence Michael Fallon operating a plasma steel cutting machine.
Secretary of Defence Michael Fallon operating a plasma steel cutting machine.

“We’ll maintain the tradition of shipbuilding here. I spoke to somebody this morning who started working here in 1973 and I also spoke to two young apprentices, so the tradition is here, but to remain alive it has to modernise, and it has modernised.

“The working practices here are light years away, not just from 1973 but from even a few years ago. That’s essential if we’re to get good value for the taxpayers as well as maintaining the sovereign capability here,” Fallon added.

After last year’s rumours predicted the Govan site could be up for dismantlement, BAE Systems recently announced it will instead invest more than £100m to improve and expand Govan and Scotstoun’s sites.

Mick Ord, managing director at BAE Systems Naval Ships, commented: “We are working closely with our Trade Unions, the Ministry of Defence and partners in the supply chain as we continue to build on our proud shipbuilding heritage. With investments in new technologies, cutting-edge processes, new ways of working and improved facilities we are transforming the way we design and build warships.”

Visualisation room at BAE Systems in Govan, Glasgow.
Visualisation room at BAE Systems in Govan, Glasgow.

After the statement, I was shown the improved facilities and techniques. I was taken to the “visualisation room” to allow my non-engineering brain to understand the capacity and potential 3D solutions have brought to different processes of shipbuilding.

I was shown a picture taken a few decades ago where men in suits were all gathered around blueprints, pens and pencils in hand. “That is how it used to be done,” I was told. Then I was handed 3D glasses and was shown a 3D CAD projection of the HMS FORTH on a wall.

Every scrap, pipe, panel and conduit could be moved, modified, deleted and replaced on the go like we were operating on the steel ourselves. Only, we weren’t.

“This is how we do it now,” the same gentleman said. The demonstration left no room for scepticism, Mick Ord meant every word and I had proof. Sitting in the taxi and drawing away from the site, the sun decided its cameo had lasted long enough to show BAE’s latest accomplishment under the best light. And it did.